May 18, 2021
It’s never too early to protect your children from the harmful effects of the sun. Skin cancer is the most common cancer in the United States and worldwide, as 1 in 5 Americans will develop skin cancer by age 70. Protecting your child’s skin from too much ultraviolet (UV) radiation sun exposure early in life can greatly reduce this risk.
Sunburn during childhood is linked to a higher risk of developing skin cancer later in life. Sunburn is a sign of skin damage that you can see, but invisible damage also occurs below the surface, in all skin types.
Sunscreen not only protects against sunburn in children, it also helps decrease the risk of certain skin cancers and signs of aging later in life. By consistently and properly applying sunscreen, children will develop protective sun habits they can continue throughout their lives.
Sun protection recommendations are different for different age groups.
For children age 6 months and younger, we recommend keeping them out of direct sunlight for sun protection. If this isn't possible, then we recommend they wear protective clothing with a sun protection factor (SPF) rating. If there are exposed areas, then you should apply a mineral-based sunscreen.
Children over 6 months old who will be in the sun should wear sunscreen.
Sunscreen is safe to use on children. Some children may be sensitive to certain ingredients in sunscreen, so initially apply it to a small area on the body to test for sensitivity. The 2 main categories of sunscreen are mineral-based and chemical-based. Both offer great protection; however, mineral-based sunscreens are better tolerated by people with sensitive skin and can be used on sensitive areas of the body such as the face.
Sunscreen should be applied 15-30 minutes before going outside so it has time to soak in. It should then be reapplied every 2 hours or more frequently if swimming or perspiring.
Choose a sunscreen with “broad spectrum” on the label. This means it protects against both UVA (long-wave) and UVB (medium-wave) rays.
We recommend an SPF rating of 30-to-50 for adequate sun protection. Also, make sure the product has not expired.
Eye protection is important in all seasons and at all ages. To ensure eye safety, you need sunglasses with at least 99% UV protection to help protect the eyes. There are child-sized glasses available to get a snug fit.
If you think your child has a sunburn, bring them indoors, use a cool bath or cool, wet washcloth to soothe their skin and offer water or Pedialyte. If the pain bothers them and they are over 6 months old, ibuprofen can be given as directed on the bottle. Call your pediatrician if there is any blistering, pain or fever.
Sunscreen needs to be applied to your child even on cloudy or cool days. It is also important to remember that UV rays can bounce off of sand, water, snow and other surfaces to reach your child when they are in the shade.
Complete pediatric care
Kimberly Wise, MD
Dr. Wise is certified by the American Board of Pediatrics. She earned her medical degree from the University of Florida College of Medicine and completed her residency at Carolinas Medical Center (now Atrium Health). Dr. Wise provides evidence-based, comprehensive care for both sick and well pediatric patients from birth through the teenage years. She enjoys taking care of her patients with a family-focused approach and watching her patients grow and develop.